Times like these call for drastic action

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 1, 2003

President Bush’s Thanksgiving Day trip to Iraq was a stroke of brilliance.

Not because it helped boost the spirits of American troops on a day when even people who aren’t being shot at in a desert thousands of miles home often get depressed; not because it helped demonstrate our nation’s commitment to finish the job in the face of increased terrorism; and not because it helped silence his Democratic critics who’ve been attacking him on the war issue.

No, while the secret trip accomplished all of the above, I don’t think any of those outcomes demonstrated its true genius – which was getting him out of having to sit down for Thanksgiving dinner with his parents.

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According to news reports, the president’s mother and father were at his Crawford, Texas, ranch waiting to have Thanksgiving dinner with him. Apparently, the trip was such a secret that he didn’t even tell the folks.

As someone who has struggled for years to figure out seemingly logical ways to get out of holiday dinner with my parents or in-laws, I don’t buy the security angle for a minute.

There are few experiences in life as excruciating as having to spend the holidays with family. Sure, there are some nice Norman Rockwell-type moments when everyone is seated around the table, laughing and happy. But realistically, those moments are few and far between.

I liken going home for the holidays to those trips where you agree to look at time-shares for the free gift. The pushy salesman takes you in his or her car, holding you captive while he and even pushier salesmen attempt to brow beat you into submission.

It’s worse with parents, because they feel they can say absolutely anything to you. And regardless of how embarrassing, humiliating or belittling their words may be, they are &uot;only saying them because deep down they love you and are just trying to help.&uot;

Making it worse is that many people in my family and my wife’s are sensitive, so my sense of humor doesn’t always play well. I almost started a fight the last time I was home for Thanksgiving. My sister’s son had finally gotten accepted to a law school after being rejected a couple times. He didn’t think it was too funny when I asked him whether he had finally got into barber college.

I think it was on the same visit that I upset my in-laws and ruined the dinner by forbidding to let my then 7-year-old daughter ride on the back of an ATV with her uncle who never met a vehicle he didn’t crash.

My wife detests these trips even more than I. As a teenager, she was as skinny as a rail and spent some time modeling. Naturally, like nearly all women, she put on a little weight after having two children.

Now, whenever she’s around her parents, she can’t lift a fork to her mouth without her mother and father making snide remarks about how she used to look. She ends up just starving herself whenever she goes for a visit.

So all that, in addition to making an 8-hour drive with the kids fighting the entire way and having to find somewhere to board our pets, always makes us scramble for excuses not to go.

And not having a war, or even Air Force One, at my disposal, we have to be more creative with our excuses. Generally, it’s that I have to work, which is rarely the case, but nonetheless convenient when we can think of nothing else.

So while I’ve never been a fan of the president, I realize now that we’ve got much in common and I have a new respect for him.

I can just imagine what it must be like around the Bush family dinner table:

Herbert Walker: &uot;When I was president and we fought Iraq, I built one of the greatest coalitions the world has ever seen…look at what you’ve done.&uot;

W: &uot;Sorry dad, I’m trying.&uot;

Herbert Walker: &uot;Sorry doesn’t cut it, boy. You’re an embarrassment…and stop slouching.&uot;

Anyway, I can sympathize with the president. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if our troops are in Iraq for many holidays to come.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via e-mail at andy.prutsok@suf-folknewsherald.com.